Government accused of delaying tactic -- Measuring mania in Quebec

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The Quebec government is investing up to C$800,000 to map wind resources on the Gaspé Peninsula, where Canada's largest wind farm is located. The province's ministry of natural resources is providing C$480,000 to the University of Quebec at Rimouski (UQAR) to install and analyse data from a series of ten monitoring towers on the peninsula and on the nearby Magdelan and Anticosti Islands. The ministry has also issued two requests for proposals for more precise wind resource assessments at Riviere-au-Renard, at the tip of the peninsula, and Ste-Felicite-de-Matane, near the 100 MW Le Nordais wind farm. Each contract has an estimated value of C$100,000-C$250,000.

UQAR's wind mapping is aimed at improving the province's knowledge of how to best exploit the Gaspé resource. "We will probably be placing a tower every 50 or 100 kilometres at strategic points," says Donald Maltais, the ministry's project manager for renewables. The province began its evaluation in 1996, says Maltais. "It is quite complicated terrain, much more complicated than we thought when we first started," he adds.

Jean-Louis Chaumel, vice-president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association and co-ordinator of wind projects at UQAR, says the towers and data acquisition systems will be made in the Gaspé and the university will subcontract much of the work to local companies. UQAR will perform the overall data analysis and the wind atlas preparation, as well as some related research and development activities.

Meantime, the ministry is calling for even more data from both the Riviere-au-Renard and Ste-Felicite-de-Matane sites. They are already considered among the best locations. The contracts on offer from the ministry call for four 40 metre towers at each site to monitor winds until March 2002.

The monitoring projects are closely tied to the provincial government's desire to use wind energy to create jobs in the economically depressed eastern Quebec region. But the continuing focus on resource assessment is delaying the opportunity for local industry to get involved, says Chaumel. Turbine manufacturing is "the heart of the action, " he adds. "I am disappointed to see how the Quebec government is more inclined to multiply studies rather than to start an effective plan to build wind farms. Both these strategies could lead to an effective job creation. But it seems Quebec is delaying the crucial meeting point, a public announcement of call for tenders for wind power."

Nearly two years ago, the province's Régie de l'énergie released a report urging the government to institute a wind set-aside of 50 MW of installed power per year, starting in 2002. But it also recommended the government pay the difference between the cost of hydro and the cost of wind power, estimated to be about C$19 million a year once all 450 MW of wind power was installed.

Set-aside possible

It was a cost the province has not been willing to bear. But, says Claude Desjarlais, the energy ministry's director of planning and research, recent amendments to the law governing the Régie may help "settle the situation."

The new law empowers the government to define a set-aside and a maximum price for wind, with the cost to be included in Hydro-Quebec's tariff base. "If there is a decision by the government that so much wind power should be included in the rate base at a maximum price of so much, then it gives Hydro Quebec the right to call for tenders and to buy to that price. Otherwise, I doubt they could do it and ask the Régie to approve of their extra costs," he says.

Desjarlais will not predict when such a government decision might come. "I think this legislation indicates clearly the intent of the government to act," he says. "There is certainly an idea in the government that in order to have something in production in the coming years, we need to act as soon as possible."

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